More officers getting body cameras in Hampton Roads

Posted at 6:30 PM, Apr 07, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-07 18:30:18-04

Newport News, Va. - You could be recorded next time you have an encounter with police. More officers in Hampton Roads are getting body cameras including Newport News.

NewsChannel 3 met with Newport News Police Department Assistant Chief Stacy Kelly.

Back in December, a suicidal man puts a knife down after threatening to harm himself after being convinced by police officers. The encounter was recorded by a body camera worn by a Newport News Police Officer.

Newport News Police said they have about 180 body cameras for about half of the patrol officers.

In the next few months, the department wants all patrol officers wearing them.

They said they're used in court for training and to show what happened.

"It seems like nationally across the country, every time lethal force is used, it's ridiculed, not ridiculed, but picked apart. If we have, first hand, what is captured, we have an internal policy that we will release video if it doesn't hamper an investigation.  So if it is something that we can stop some debate up front, we will release it as long as it is not sensitive to the investigation," says Kelly.

But certain cities in Hampton Roads are not using body cameras.

Virginia State Police, Hampton Police, Portsmouth Police, and Virginia Beach Police tell NewsChannel 3 they don't have them.

Norfolk Police just received cameras two months ago.

In mid-March, an officer shot a 22-year-old man.

Police said the officer who fired the shot didn't activate his camera when he heard the call.

They would not say if the officer faced disciplinary action because they say it is still part of the internal investigation.

Norfolk police told us the technology is new and turning the camera on would have been an additional step for the officer.

And that the use of the body cameras will improve the longer the department has them.

Newport News Police have had the cameras since 2013. They require all officers to turn their cameras on when they have contact with any citizen on a police matter.

Kelly explains what happens if they don't turn them on.

"If they don't, it's a violation of policy. We understand that when an officer first gets it, it takes a while to build up the habit. They are not going to get penalized right up front but they will be counseled," says Kelly.

Newport News Police said they're looking to possibly buy body cameras that turn on automatically rather than the officer having to do it manually.

Those cameras are being tested right now. They would automatically turn on when an officer turns on his blue lights. Newport News Police said they have been asking for these and were asked to be a part of a pilot program.

Kelly said, "We want the full story to come out just as much as anyone does. With that being said, we are going to investigate thoroughly. You only get one chance at a crime scene."

And if lethal force is used, police know the case will be dissected and questioned by the public and the media.

They said video from the cameras could answer some of those questions.

The Suffolk Police Department said they have purchased 125 units and have less than 10 on the street now in a test phase. They purchased them at the first of this year. A spokesperson said officers must turn them on during police actions such as a call for service, a traffic stop or an arrest and if they don't turn on when required, it is a police violation and the city disciplinary policy is followed.

Chesapeake Police said they have about 250 body cameras right now. They said officers are required to turn them on anytime they have contact with citizens. They could face discipline if they do not turn them on.